This post contains profound thoughts on Elizabeth’s post on the Psychology of Spiritual Groups and the IDR Cycle from Avi Magidoff, an internationally known teacher of spirituality, Buddhism and acupuncture. For more on Avi Magidoff, please go here.
THE IDEALIZATION PHASE: LIKE PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME
When we are in the “falling in love” phase with a teacher or a path, (“the idealization phase” in terms of the IDR cycle), it often feels like our suffering has been entrusted. Falling in love makes the darkest of winters feels like Paris in springtime.
In fact, for me the definition of a teacher is the one who “takes on your suffering” until you are able to handle it yourself. There are very few people who do that. Most prefer to “teach” in a manner that is really more “preach,” especially in today’s world with such big audiences.
THE TEST AND PERILS: REALISTIC RESOLUTION
But the real test is what happens later. If the teacher/group was just some sort of coat check, when we check our baggage back, we get back the same suffering.
But if I now take my suffering back and it feels different, it is a “different coat,” so to speak. It has not been just a coat check. Then the experience can be said to have produced a true spiritual transformation.
THE ROLE OF COMPASSION
Some spiritual teachers, for example Gurdjieff, are big on “the stick” and less so on “the carrot.” My personal experience has been that encouragement is the “mother of all teachers.”
If that basic quality is not there — the desire to alleviate the suffering of the student, to encourage them towards something rather than discourage them away from something — in the realistic resolution phase, the student ends up carrying seeds of bitterness.
Some might claim these seeds of bitterness are food for practice. To some extent this may be so, but in my opinion, they are largely obstacles.
At the end of the day it is the compassion and commitment of the teacher (or the Sangha around the teacher) to the student’s suffering (and well-being) that is perhaps the best test of our path. Admittedly, when we are “in love” we are not likely to apply this test well. Also, there is always the issue of how much we tend to mix the teacher and the group around him/her.
This is such a volatile subject. Anything that starts to “peel” it is a good thing.